Exposure to alcohol and illicit substances during pregnancy can have an impact on the child for the rest of his/her life. A Special Child Welfare Clinic (SCWC) in Norway provides care for pregnant women with substance abuse problems. Treatment and support are provided without replacement therapy.
We performed a neuropsychological screening of 40 children aged four to 11 years whose mothers had attended the SCWC during pregnancy, and of a comparison group of 80 children of women without substance abuse problems. The children were presented with tests chosen from Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, third version (WISC-III), Nepsy, Halstead-Reitan and Raven's Progressive Matrices, Coloured Version. The tests were grouped into five main domains; (1) learning and memory, (2) visual scanning, planning and attention, (3) executive function, (4) visuo-motor speed and dexterity and (5) general intellectual ability
No children in the study had test results in the clinical range in any domain. Bivariate analyses revealed that children of short-term substance-abusing mothers (who stopped substance abuse within the first trimester) had significantly lower test scores than the comparison group in three out of five domains (domain 2,3,4). Children of long-term substance abusers (who maintained moderate substance abuse throughout pregnancy) had significantly lower test results than the comparison group in one domain of the test results (domain 1). All but one child in the long-term group were or had been in foster homes. Most children in the short-term group stayed with their mothers. Multivariate regression analyses revealed that foster care minimum 50% of life time was associated with better scores on domains (1) learning and memory, (2) visual scanning, planning and attention, and (3) executive functions, while no significant associations with test scores was found for substance abuse and birth before 38 weeks of gestation.
Children raised by former substance abusing mothers scored worse on the neuropsychological screening than children who had substance abusing mothers and mostly were raised in foster homes. This indicates that it is important to focus on the environment in cases where help and support are provided to presently or formerly addicted women raising children.